How to Bar Hop Without Ever Leaving Your Hotel

The Studio at the Freehand in New York City is one of many bars within the hotel. | Photo by Adrian Gaut.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall the first time a hotelier raised the question, “What if guests could bar-hop right here, without ever leaving the hotel?” Lucky for travelers, this idea has started to catch on within the hotel community, prompting a new type of experience wherein guests have two, three, four or even five drinking and dining options under one roof.

Bar crawling has never been easier (or more fun) than at places like Hotel Emma in San Antonio, where Sternewirth and Supper offer a one-two punch, or in Providence, Rhode Island, where the Dean Hotel contrasts sultry basement bar The Magdalenae Room with Boombox, a karaoke lounge. In New York City, you can start the day at the new Freehand Hotel with brunch cocktails at Studio, the second-floor all-day café, then head for happy hour at the George Washington Bar before dinner and drinks at Simon & The Whale on the lobby level, then indulge in the hip tropical concoctions at the buzzing Broken Shaker at the top of the hotel.

And at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston, Eastern Standard and the Hawthorne deliver two outstanding opportunities for in-house cocktails (and Island Creek Oyster joins the duo with fresh seafood and an excellent wine list). “Having multiple different food and beverage concepts in a hotel provides an element of choice that appeals to guests when it comes time for dinner, or perhaps just a pre-dinner drink,” says Hawthorne bar manager Jared Sadoian. “Just as you have a choice of what type of room you would like, having on-location options for food and drink encourages guests to stay on the property and will increase the stature of the hotel from simply a ‘place to stay’ into a destination in and of itself.”

swizzle

Voyager’s Swizzle from Josephine Estelle at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans. | Photo by Emma Janzen.

The bars at the Hotel Commonwealth are owned and operated independently of the hotel management, which allows each concept to have more flexibility in what they offer, Sadoian adds. “For us, it’s about creating three very different environments, all attractive in their own way, that can connect in a fluid experience. Think afternoon oysters and Champagne as the sunset shines through the soaring windows at Island Creek Oyster Bar, followed by a three-course dinner paired with fine wine nestled in a plush banquette at Eastern Standard, and wrapping up with a nightcap downstairs in the dim glow of The Hawthorne. A night out on the town, all without having to get behind the wheel, call a taxi, or even venture outdoors (when the weather isn’t cooperating)!”

The Ace Hotel group first explored the idea of having multiple food and beverage experiences on-site for guests at their New York City location, which opened with The Breslin and the lobby bar on the first level. They’ve applied the same approach to their other properties around the country. At the Ace Hotel in New OrleansJosephine Estelle and a casual lobby bar offer daytime tipples, and as dusk approaches, a full menu rolls out at Three Keys, the hotel’s on-site music venue. On the roof, frozen drinks flow freely from Alto, and a few doors down the street, cozy nautical nook Seaworthy also functions under the hotel’s purview. “Having multiple outlets allows people to choose their own adventure and explore the place they’re in in new ways,” says Brad Wilson, president of Ace Hotels.

But the aim isn’t just to fill a hotel with as many venues as possible. Rather, Wilson says the Ace focuses on creating food and beverage experiences that pay homage to the history and culture of each city their hotels reside in. “New Orleans is particularly rich in history—music, culture, gastronomy and, of course, drinking. We wanted to pay tribute to these things and found organic ways to express our love for them [via each bar],” he says. And by doing so, the hotel manages to capture the attention of not just hotel guests, but the locals, too. “A unique outcome of building hotels for everyone—not just our guests—is that you welcome the whole city in. As a gathering space for travelers and locals both, it creates an environment ripe with the opportunity for making new friends, learning about each other.”

Paul McGee helms the beverage program at the Milk Room in Chicago. | Photo by Clayton Hauck.

Local culture was also a consideration at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. “Being neighbors to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and so many others, we knew the hotel could be a cornerstone for the neighborhood which already had a huge amount of tourists. Our goal was to create concepts that would be a draw to our local Chicagoans (like me!) who would normally avoid the touristy areas,” says Michael Mason, director of restaurants, bars and programs for the hotel.

When the iconic the 1890s-era Chicago Athletic Association was renovated into the hotel in 2015, the drinking agenda set a new standard for the area. The lineup begins with slushies and shuffleboard at the aptly named Game Room, followed by aperitifs overlooking Millennium Park at rooftop bar Cindy’s. Austere classics steal the show at Cherry Circle Room, and after dinner, guests who are in-the-know seek the rare and vintage selection at The Milk Room. “We really let this one-of-a-kind building dictate at lot of the decision-making during the initial planing stages of bring the Chicago Athletic Association back to life as the hotel it is today,” says Mason.

Acclaimed bartender Paul McGee joined the team early on, researching history and past menus from bars and restaurant in the former club to make sure each new bar would speak to the building’s history. It’s been a smash hit, prompting a recent expansion of the main bar, a new terrace on the rooftop, and the addition of a service bar in the lobby. To keep up with demand, the team is currently looking at three other permanent bars in different locations of the hotel. “​To me, the large number of bar options under one roof really shows that hotels have embraced what f&b can do to enhance the reputation of the hotel to the public,” says Mason, adding that they’ve also started other programming to bolster their offerings, like panels that explore art, music and film, plus Netflix screenings and the creation of the Chicago Art Book Fair.


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